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Using InCopy to Clean Up Word Files

Tom, a journalism professor and InDesign/InCopy user, e-mailed me about his interesting use of InCopy as kind of a “Word cleaner plug-in:”

Because I like and understand InDesign and have had quirky problems using Word files, I’ve come up with a new workflow that puts InCopy in the middle. Quickly: I edit in Word then later open the file in InCopy where I do all of my formatting, knowing it will be there when I place the InCopy file in InDesign.

That was pretty neat … and I know that using InCopy to “prep” Word files for InDesign is standard practice  in a lot of my client’s workflows.

Tom had a question about something, though:

I have a workspace named Newsletter, and InCopy opens in that workspace. But when I open a story from Word, all of my paragraph styles, etc., disappear and I have to take a second to reload them. I’ve tried saving the workspace with the paragraph styles open, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

As Tom discovered, paragraph styles (or any styles) that are within the panel are ignored when you create and save a workspace. Instead, the styles panels list the styles contained in the active document, regardless of which workspace you switch to. If the program is running but no documents are open, the styles panel lists the application’s default styles (usually, only [Basic Paragraph]). When you create a new blank document, the new file contains the same default styles.

So what Tom did was to add his custom Newsletter styles to InCopy’s paragraph styles panel when no documents were open, which turned them into default styles, a clever and time-saving solution.

And indeed it would work great if he were writing newsletter articles from scratch in new InCopy files. But he wasn’t doing that — he was converting existing Word docs to InCopy. And in that case, the converted file is counted as an existing file, so the paragraph styles panel only shows the styles contained in that active document — the styles that were in the Word file.Yuk!

The solution, as I replied to Tom, was to simply stop converting Word files into InCopy format. (“Doctor, it hurts when I do this with my arm.” “Stop doing that.” Ba dum-bum!)

Instead, to retain custom styles, you should import (File > Place) them into new, blank InCopy files. Remember that new InCopy files contain default styles, including any custom ones you added to the defaults. Importing a Word file will just add the Word styles (if that’s what you want) to the paragraph styles panel. Your custom styles remain intact, ready for applying to the text.

Also, as long as you remember to turn on the checkbox for Show Import Options during the import (or hold down the Shift key when clicking the Open button, which is the equivalent):


… then you’ll still get the same Word Import Options dialog box as you would with the conversion method:


At this point you could even choose the Customize Style Import option at the bottom to map Word styles to your custom InCopy styles … now you’re cookin’!

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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4 Comments on “Using InCopy to Clean Up Word Files

  1. Good post, but my name is Tom, not Bob. :-)


    I really do appreciate the help, though, no matter what you call me.

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